When you’re given the task to build a road from Kandahar to Kabul in Afghanistan, you expect to encounter a few problems along the way. Some of the problems proved staggering, even for a giant consulting firm like Louis Berger Group of Washington D.C.
Working under the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Berger took on the crucial road-building job January 10, 2003. The contract called for completion by the end of the year of a two-lane highway 23 ft. (7 m) wide with unpaved shoulders.
An additional series of contracts outlined the construction of a road from Kandahar to Herat. When finished these two projects would complete 646 mi. of the total “ring road” and connect this Texas-sized country’s major cities with a reliable asphalt road. The third section of the “ring road,” from Herat to Kabul is being funded and constructed by other international groups.
When Berger’s engineers studied the Kandahar to Kabul piece of the project, they saw a daunting task. They observed that after 40 years of war and neglect, the road was a mess, with only approximately 30 mi. of it driveable.
The condition of the road meant that a 250-mi. trip between these two major cities would take 19 hours over two days (night travel was not recommended). By the time the project was completed, travel time between the two cities was reduced to under six hours.
The obstacles to the project were immense. For example, Afghanistan had no liquid asphalt, reliable aggregate supplies, paving equipment, or paving contractors. And before the project could even begin, some 1,000 unexploded mines and other ordnance had to be removed from the area surrounding the road.
The Louis Berger team had pre-qualified and selected experienced contractors, three from Turkey and one from India. Each contractor was assigned a 52-mi. segment of road to rebuild. Since there was no paving equipment in the country, and the 207 day time constraint for the first layer of asphalt paving existed, Berger had to spend $7 million to airlift the equipment to the paving sites.
Overland transport from Turkey and India would have taken nearly 25 days and the completion date could not have been achieved. The team conducted a broad search for asphalt before finally locating suppliers in India and Egypt who shipped most of the asphalt into the country in barrels.
With equipment and suppliers lined up, the contractors still needed workers. Since 40 years had passed since any major road-building activities had taken place, there were virtually no experienced highway workers. So each of the contractors brought in approximately 100 of their own workers, then trained from 100 to 150 local Afghans to work on the road project.
Despite the complexities of working with government entities from two nations (United States and Afghanistan), security and de-mining providers, and five international sub-contractors, the paving team was able to complete the grading, subgrade and one layer of asphalt treated base (ATB) from Kandahar to Kabul by December 15, 2003. Most of the project was completed in just under four months. The final 30 mi. at the Kandahar end of the road was funded by the Japanese government.
The international paving contractors constructed a road composed of two layers ATB totaling 250 mm, including a 38 mm binder course and a 25 mm surface course. A Chemcrete modifier was used on the ATB, as was a polymer modified asphalt for the surface course. The polymer modified asphalt was used in the surface wear course on only 52 mi. of the Kabul to Kandahar road. It is being used in the surfacing of the entire Kandahar to Herat road. The asphalt was 60/70 penetration grade.
The lack of in-country crushing equipment for making traditional aggregates forced Louis Berger Group to investigate creative alternatives. The company’s engineers located river sites with material that was suitable for screening. One of the contractors had screening equipment in-country and it was retained to immediately produce materials for the project that would supply all four contractors until each of them could bring in its own crushing equipment.
The contractor was able to screen materials from dry riverbeds and from quarries known to have aggregate available. This material consisted of angular, sub-angular, and rounded aggregates. This material was used in the first ATB layer and some of the second ATB layer. Approximately 900,000 tons of aggregate were produced using the equipment, enabling the team to meet paving project deadlines.
In addition to the road-building work, the Berger team’s contract required seven bridges to be reconstructed, 38 bridges to be repaired, and 1,900 culverts and causeways to be constructed, repaired or extended.
Problems in Afghanistan, of course, would not be limited to paving. A workers’ camp at Durani was attacked by mortar fire and threatening letters were received from the Taliban. Berger worked with a security subcontractor, USPI, to provide an additional 1,000 troops for security. Afghanistan continues to be a dangerous place.
By the summer of 2004 the two-lane road was essentially complete. Then Interim President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, spoke at a dedication of the road, December 15, 2003.
The success of the project, prompted USAID to investigate similar road-building work for a Kandahar to Herat section of the ring road. The road was built in the 1960s and early 1970s by the former Soviet Union. This Portland cement concrete road was in deplorable condition.
By October, 2004, three sections of the Kandahar to Herat road were under contract for reconstruction. The project, including rubblization of the old PCC road, is currently under way. The southern 143 mi. of the 346-mi. highway will be funded by the governments of Japan and Saudi Arabia with USAID funding the design and engineering services for the Saudi section.
“Completing both the Kandahar to Kabul road and the Kandahar to Herat road will mark an important step forward in Afghanistan’s future,” said Kent Lande, Chief Engineer of LBG who saw numerous local businesses pop up along the newly-completed section of the road.
“These new highways will provide jobs and bring new opportunities for business, commerce and health access. I believe the Ring Road will be a key link in the future transportation system across Central Asia.”
(Reprinted by permission of the National Asphalt Pavement Association from its “HMAT” magazine, November/December 2005.)